Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Poor judgment

From a May 11 story in the Sacramento Bee about a fraud suspect arrested in Mexico by the FBI comes this item of interest about appointed Judge Warren Stracener of El Dorado County:

“Warren Stracener, the sitting judge who is (Joseph) Hoffman’s other opponent, said he had been in communication with Kerekes and considered what Hoffman did ‘highly questionable conduct.’”

That’s Kathleen Kerekes who in 2009 won a $4.5 million judgment against the fraud suspect and said she left a voicemail message in 2010 with the attorney who is said to have a trust account for the man who faces a federal criminal complaint. We won’t even get into what kind of lawyer thinks a voicemail message constitutes formal notification and authority to seize a trust account.

What bothers us is the fact that a sitting Superior Court judge is having ex parte communication with an attorney about a case over which he has no jurisdiction, a case now in federal court.

We call that poor judgment. At the least it is unseemly.

Even seedier is the sleazy hit piece Stracener mailed out that made the outrageous claim of fraud and money laundering. All this because of an account held in trust by the attorney.

Stracener, a state government lawyer for the Personnel Department before his appointment to the bench here doesn’t seem to have a working knowledge of attorney-client trust accounts.

Here is what persons of note say about trust accounts for clients:

“It’s an extremely common practice. It’s the client’s money” held in a trust fund. Such accounts operate “literally every day, every week, as a function of the law practice,” said McGregor Scott, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California.

“You are required to have a trust account” as a lawyer, said Superior Court Judge Douglas Phimister. “It’s not for hiding money; it’s for holding to give out for a given purpose.”

District Attorney Vern Pierson said he had told Stracener’s campaign after seeing the mailer in advance and its accusations that it was a “complicated case about nothing.”

“For someone who calls himself a Superior Court judge, it’s sad and pathetic to disparage someone without substantiation,” Pierson told the Mountain Democrat Thursday.

Judges are people like the rest of us only with a law degree. We invest a lot of trust in those we choose as judges. A person who knows his way around a courtroom and knows judges and attorneys is bail bondsman Chuck Holland. He said it best when interviewed by staff writer Cole Mayer:

“Judges need to be beyond reproach. They make decisions on your life, your family, your property. There needs to be no doubt they are qualified, competent and honest,” Holland said.

That describes Joseph Hoffman, our choice for Superior Court judge — beyond reproach, qualified, competent and honest.

Mountain Democrat


Discussion | 15 comments

  • 1036-FrankMay 29, 2012 - 5:39 pm

    It is an important question to ask, why did Mr. Hoffman allow a client to use his client trust account for any purpose? Until this is answered in a reasonable way it casts a pall over him. The explanations given, so far, are not reasonable as this is not a common practice and is governed by the Cal Rules of Professional Conduct. Also the letter written by Hoffman advising his client had six million in "Dory Bars" again, not looking good as investors were baited by this letter it looks like. Now add the client fleeing to Mexico, being arrested, and the investor's left holding the bag, this all doesn't bode well for Hoffman.

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  • TonyMay 29, 2012 - 9:41 pm

    I don't really care what the Mt. Democrat has to say. The bottom line is Hoffman has a lot of explaining to do. Why did he let Chartraw use his trust account? Why did he write a letter attesting to Chartraw owning Dory Bars? (A letter that was used to perpetrate fraud.) How long has he known Chartraw? Did he ever represent Chartraw in other matters? If Hoffman is so ethical, why can't or why won't he answer these simple questions? Something just doesn't seem right about the Hoffman-Chartraw connection. Maybe the Mountain Democrat should start asking Hoffman some tough questions.

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  • ShaunMay 29, 2012 - 11:36 pm

    Formal Opinion of the State Bar No. 1996-146: "When a client is engaging in an ongoing fraud, the lawyer must be careful to avoid assisting in the fraud in any way. ... If the client does not refrain from the fraudulent conduct, the lawyer must either limit the scope of her representation to matters that do not involve participation in or furthering the client's fraud, or withdraw." If his neglect of the accounts permitted the deposits into and withdrawals out of the client trust account, as the FBI investigation unveils, Hoffman enabled and assisted his client in avoiding law enforcement and known judgment creditors. By the time of the first $400,000 deposit into Hoffman's client trust account, Hoffman had been put on notice of Chartraw's judgment creditors via the attorney's voicemails. By the time of the second $75,000 deposit, Hoffman knew his client was a fugitive with an outstanding arrest warrant for "senior financial elder abuse" - he represented Chartraw in the criminal case and had been served with money judgments against Chartraw ranging from $30K to $4.5 million. Had Chartraw deposited any of this money into an account of his own, it would have been detectable by law enforcement and financial institutions. Hoffman's apparent disregard of and failure to monitor his client trust account enabled Chartraw to evade detection and continue to perpetuate a fraud on the public. (These factual allegations are all extracted from the FBI Agent's sworn affidavit and the attorney's sworn declaration; of course, until proven in court, these are only allegations, but one must consider the high reliability of these sources of the information.) As for McGregor Scott's comments, yes it is an extremely common practice to HAVE a client trust account. It is an extremely UNCOMMON practice and in fact a violation of an attorney's ethical obligations to permit a client unfettered access to the account. The State Bar's Client Trust Account Handbook warns, "allowing other people access to your client trust bank account is risky" and suggests the attorney be the only one with access. According to the California Supreme Court, an attorney breaches his professional duties when he gives complete control of a client trust account to the client. Even if somehow unaware of the client's fraud, this ethical lapse warrants discipline by the State Bar. As for Phimister, I don't think he could have put it any better: A client trust account is "not for hiding money." Yet, that's what we're looking at here. Money was hidden from detection by way of placement in a client trust account. In spite of this, why do these officials, whom this paper holds out as "persons of note" and asks you to trust keep insisting none of the allegations point to any wrongdoing? Why does the M-D refuse to present the public with the documents to let them decide for itself?

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  • Evelyn VeerkampMay 30, 2012 - 5:50 am

    Shaun, thank you for sharing what you have found.

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  • 1036-FrankMay 30, 2012 - 7:46 am

    The questions for Hoffman's actions and his ethics now have to be transfered to those in the county in important legal elected offices like the DA and Judges and other attornies working for the DA who all endorsed him. These are people who know or should have known that Hoffman's conduct was more then questionable and ethically improper. This is scary and should of been vetted long before as it is an embarassment now. Maybe it is write-in time for another qualified candidate to step forward.

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  • Chuck HollandMay 30, 2012 - 8:21 am

    Why would I or anyone for that matter take the word of a nameless blogger (Shaun) seriously? He espouses lots of sound bites and catchy phrases, but only half or no-truths. Or I/we can take the word of people in the know like the DA, his prosecutors, a multi term judge with 40 years of legal experience, the former US Attorney for the Eastern District of California, Even passing by a Federal Grand Jury. All of which have reviewed the information "Shaun" eludes to. Who do you trust? Real people, real names, people in the know? Or a blogger unwilling to use a real name?

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  • ConcernedMay 30, 2012 - 8:23 am

    No one can excuse the facts that Hoffman used his "Attorney Account" to launder money and then supported a fraud scheme with his "Letter of Support" for "Suspect Chartraw". Facts are facts and no matter how many more "Attorneys" come out to back his actions doesn't make it go away. A federal Judge issued a set of search/arrest warrants based on facts and the suspect was arrested and the bank records were taken and in support the facts are known. Once caught those on the hook should be skinned and dealt with swiftly and dis-bared. At least be know who not to vote for in this race.

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  • Walking TallMay 30, 2012 - 8:35 am

    The facts are the facts and no one can say anything different, who defends who doesn't really matter because they are blind to the truth. The choice is clear and the people who want us to ignore the truth are not being listened to.

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  • 1036-FrankMay 30, 2012 - 8:40 am

    Regardless of who brings it forth in this case of Chartraw and Hoffman, the FACTS speak for themselves and the letter Hoffman wrote speaks for itself and the client trust account, which was very ethically improperly used, which operated under the radar, speaks for itself and the Cal Rules of Professional Conduct speak as well and all loudly have brought a case of fraud and money invested and missing/laundered and an arrest of a fugitve to the attention of us here. For the elected legal community of this county, the DA in particular to try to spin this as unimportant is more then a blemish on his record as well as the Judge and the rest of a legal community who signed onto this. This conduct disqualifies Hoffman from any stand point that can be made, I say it is write-in time for someone to step forward, for me, Hoffman is disqualified.

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  • rebelMay 30, 2012 - 10:31 am

    The writting is on the wall or in this case all over the news and on line, for anyone who wants to see the facts. Hoffman is out and Valentine hangs with the wrong crowd and was asked to leave. The "On the bench candidate" is in and has the truth behind him, the comments about his claims are just that and the "Hit Pieces" are just a vote for JUDGE STRACENER is the right one.

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  • KerekesMay 30, 2012 - 2:45 pm

    Please refrain from publishing false and misleading information about me. I did not contact Mr. Hoffman in August 2010 to gain access to or "seize" his trust account. I merely contacted him to confirm his representation of Daniel and Martha Chartraw, opposing parties in the matter. I have an ethical duty to seek such confirmation after receiving information that he was representing these parties and I had papers I needed to serve. Hoffman never returned my calls and I served Daniel Chartraw's criminal attorney in Monterey and Martha Chartraw in pro per. If anyone is interested in the true facts, I am happy to provide a pdf file of my declaration on the matter. You can email at and I will send a copy. Regards, Kathleen Kerekes

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  • Nice to KnowMay 30, 2012 - 6:04 pm

    It would be nice to know if any of the Hoffman supporters could explain why their candidate hasn't stated for the record why he did what the Federal search warrant produced. The records and evidence are just that, facts that thus far are not disputed and were found to be true. It's funny how others ignore these facts just to say that he did no wrong, but I guess that will be for the court to decide and long after the election on June 5th.

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  • Ken SteersMay 30, 2012 - 7:31 pm

    Previous posters, Could the answers to your statements and questions be, attorney client privilege? So to all you good people, my question to you, is Judge Phemister evil and corrupt? Why are all the Attorneys in this county against a sitting judge? Why is it that so few people endorse Judge Stracener that he's forced to list John Stelzmiller twice in his mailers and on his web site as CRA member and ex CC chair? Pretty Thin picken's there. Isn't it a fact that Schwarzenegger exhibited the same judgement by selecting Stracener for a judge as he did in choosing his beloved house keeper? Wouldn't it be fair to say that by doing such Arnold did the same thing to El Dorado County that he did to that house keeper? I'm just saying...

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  • ShaunMay 30, 2012 - 8:00 pm

    Ken, to answer your question - no, it's not attorney-client privilege that is preventing him from explaining himself because the privilege doesn't apply in his case. California Evidence Code section 956 states, "There is no privilege under this article if the services of the lawyer were sought or obtained to enable or aid anyone to commit or plan to commit a crime or a fraud." It's more likely that his desire not to incriminate himself is what's really holding him back from discussing the case. Given everything you've read, how can you possibly believe Phimister and Pierson aren't simply looking out for one of their own? They've already dug themselves in too deep to reverse course at this point. Their 2-second sound bites only present half the story; hopefully you and everyone else see what they're simply not telling you.

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  • Helpu SeethetruthMay 30, 2012 - 11:28 pm

    Kinda makes you wonder why Phimister, Pierson, Holland and the other "dirty dozen" are so passionate about keeping their candidate above water. How involved are they really?????? It would not surprize me to see "breaking news" on this bunch in the near future. Talk around town says Hoffman should stop bragging about being a "coach".....sexist-hope crusher!

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